Homecoming incorporates Chapel, GCU families

Editor’s note: Reprinted from the February 2021 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here.

By Rick Vacek
GCU Magazine

Nick Ely hasn’t attended the weekly Chapel service at Grand Canyon University since he graduated in 2014.

Boy, is he in for a surprise on Monday, and he’ll have a great view. He’s the guest speaker.

Chapel will kick off a new-look, weeklong Homecoming celebration, and it’s not just for alumni. Forced to go online this year because of the pandemic, Homecoming now is for the families of current students as well, incorporating what was Family Weekend in October.

Simply by his presence onstage, Ely will embody the stunning changes to the campus in general and Chapel in particular since he arrived a little more than a decade ago.

The Lead Pastor of Christ Church Central Phoenix remembers when Chapel moved from Antelope Gym to GCU Arena during his senior year, but on a much smaller scale than in recent times. The seats in one end of the facility provided more than enough room for the crowd.

Chapel attendance has exceeded 6,000 during non-COVID times, such as this gathering in January 2020.

Now, during non-COVID times, most of the 7,400-seat Arena is filled every week. Even during the pandemic, attendance has remained strong even though admission is limited and advance sign-ups are required. It also is available via livestream.

“It’s been sweet for me to see how much the school has grown,” Ely said.

His growth in his religious calling has been equally satisfying. The former President of the Associated Students of GCU started working at a church in Gilbert, Arizona, while still attending the University and continued on that path before being named to his current position.

But he hasn’t forgotten what the GCU experience did for him. One of his closest friends from his time on campus, Kirk Gould, is on his staff as Director of Operations.

“Some of the relationships I built while I was in school are still some of the most important relationships in my life,” Ely said. “That time I got to spend there was formative because of the people I was around. That’s a huge privilege. I hope other alumni have had the same experience.”

Danielle Rinnier graduated from GCU in 2007 and now is a regular Chapel speaker.

Danielle Rinnier knows that feeling, too, only she has had the opportunity to draw even more from the GCU experience. Students gathered for SALT (Students Alive in the Lord’s Truth) during her days as an undergraduate; after earning her degree in 2007 she went on to become GCU’s Director of Spiritual Life and now is Assistant Dean of Students – and a regular Chapel speaker.

“It’s hard to capture the uniqueness of GCU’s Chapel until you’ve experienced other Chapels,” she said. “When we hire employees who have worked at other Christian institutions, one of the things that stands out to them is that most other entities require students to go to Chapel. That decreases the level of engagement.

“At our Chapel, you can see that students are singing, they’re paying attention, they’re taking notes. They’re there because they want to be there, and they want to hear from God through worship and the teaching of God’s Word. That’s a pretty special thing to have on a college campus.”

Because it’s so special, staff and students have worked hard to preserve it during the pandemic. Holding it outside was a serious consideration for much of last year, before University officials decided to keep it in its normal Arena location, albeit with COVID protocols.

“Our student leaders, from the very beginning, have been willing to worship outside in 110-degree weather in the shade if that’s what it takes to provide this experience,” Rinnier said.

Robyn Hord calls herself "the relationship builder and the person who introduces folks to GCU."

Robyn Hord is another whatever-it-takes person. She kept her title, Parent and Family Programs Coordinator, when she joined the Department of Advancement at the start of January and is enthusiastically preparing for her contributions to Homecoming.

“I’m the relationship builder and the person who introduces folks to GCU,” she said.

She is most excited about introducing parents of current students to the TikTok contest in which they can win Lope Shop cash prizes by creating their own videos.

“Do I know TikTok? Do I know how to do it? Absolutely not,” she said with a smile. “But I do think it could be funny and entertaining.”

Hord bases her work on four words – pray, care, serve, give – and takes her work with parents personally for two very good reasons: Her daughter is a GCU grad, and her son is a current student.

“I’m quite passionate about, ‘How do you care for your students well during the four years they’re at GCU?’” she said. “Stepping in and doing everything for them just like you did for the past 18 years is really not caring for them well while they’re here on our campus.”

Changing times, shifting roles. Ely will address that dynamic in his Chapel talk, which will focus on what it has been like for him to go from the campus experience to the alumni experience.

“I will find a place in Scripture and I will preach that because teaching the Scripture is really all I will ever do if you give me a microphone,” he said.

It will be a good message for students, their families and alumni to hear. Let the relationships begin … or continue to grow.


  • Streamed GCU Alumni and Family Chapel (scheduled event: Monday, March 1,at 11 a.m.): GCU alumnus Nick Ely will give a special chapel message.
  • A message from President Mueller (can be viewed at any time during the week): President Brian Mueller will share a special message for students, alumni and their families with updates on the current state of the university and updates on future projects.
  • GCU Virtual Campus Tours (can participate at any time during the week): Participants can take a virtual tour of campus. The tour will showcase both iconic GCU landmarks as well as new additions to campus that may not have been seen before.
  • Cooking with the Herd (can participate at any time during the week): Students, alumni and their families can participate in a virtual class with chef Mike Willison and cook a breakfast of blueberry pancakes or ham and cheese omelet alongside the renowned chef.
  • GCU Alumni Hall of Fame: The Office of Alumni Relations will highlight and celebrate this year’s Hall of Fame inductees virtually on its page. Inductees: Dan Snyder, Rachel Winkler, Garth Bailey and Scott Van Newkirk.
  • GCU Flashback Archives (can participate at any time during the week): Students, alumni and their families are invited to explore GCU’s history through a collection of photos and yearbooks.
  • TikTok Competition (can participate at any time during the week): Lope families are invited to participate in the creation of TikTok videos for a chance to win cash prizes for the Lope Shop. Participants can view vote for other Homecoming and Family Week videos by looking up the Hashtag #HCFW21. Winners will be announced Friday, March 5, at noon Arizona time.
  • Live Student Performances (Tuesday through Friday at noon Arizona time): Performances streamed live from the Student Union Promenade can be viewed on GCU’s YouTube Page. Fans of the game show Family Feud are in for a treat. GCU’s very own emcee, Caleb Duarte, will host several events.
  • Lope Nation Watch Party (Friday, March 5 vs. Utah Valley at 6:30 p.m. Arizona time/ Saturday, March 6 vs. Utah Valley at 6:30 p.m. Arizona time): Lope fans are invited to join in on the Lope Nation Watch Parties and cheer on the Men’s Basketball team. The Lope Shop will be offering discounts for the event.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Chapel to feature reunions with speakers from past

GCU Today: Mackey links humility, prayer with story of Uzziah

GCU Today: Griffin centers Chapel talk on shifting margins

GCU Today: Chapel: Don't pass up lessons from life's offenses

GCU Today: Moore sets a high bar for Musical Worship Chapel

GCU Today: Demeter shows Chapel how faith can save you

GCU Today: Brown's return to Chapel is charged with emotion


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

(Job declared,) "Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." (Job 7:11)

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